Malawi environment Minister Vuwa Kaunda faces backlash for ordering closed thin plastic companies to re-open
LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-Malawi Minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife Symon Vuwa Kaunda has been accused of tampering with the law that ban manufacturing of thin plastics that the minister has no power over the country’s statues.
Kaunda is reportedly ordered the re-opening of four plastic manufacturing companies sealed two weeks ago for contravening the law, opting to prioritise the June 23, 2020 fresh presidential election.
In an internal communication, the minister instructed the ministry to facilitate the reopening of the factories, which manufacture environmentally hazardous thin plastics, in defiance of a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judgement upholding the ban.
“We are facing an election next week. Hold this exercise for now until after elections. Open factories and impose a fine,” reads Vuwa Kaunda’s comment dated June 12 2020 and written in free hand on the memo from the ministry’s principal secretary (PS) dated June 11 2020 under file reference MET PW/C/05.
But addressing the news conference in the capital Lilongwe on Monday, June 22, 2020,Movement for Environmental Actions (MEA) told the Minister Kaunda that the decision be reversed immediately warning that will face the lawsuit of his action.
MEA interim Chairperson Mathews Malata observed that the minister conduct was uncalled for and unacceptable towards environmental management.
Malata said the Minister’s actions is highly suspicious, irregular and retrogressive.
“The two issues raised by the Minister are incomprehensible. As a principal custodian of the environment, Mr Vuwa Kaunda was supposed to side with the law, Malawians, the courts and entire technical team in his Ministry to ensure justice prevails.
“Regrettably, the Minister has chosen to take a dangerous route against the Supreme Court Judgment, the Plastics Regulations (2015) and the Environmental Management Act of 2015. It is unheard of for a well reasoning Minister to act in a manner that opposes everything he was appointed for.
He adds,”Mr Vuwa Kaunda embarrassingly failed in his duties, demonstrated lack of integrity, cannot be trusted and does not deserve be in the public service. We can comfortably conclude he is the threat in chief the environment. For your information let me read for you one of the clauses in the closure order issued by his Ministry”.
“That if Mr Vuwa Kaunda does not reconsider his stand, and continues to directly engage with· the companies, he together with the concerned companies be subjected to serious investigations by relevant bodies.
“The Minister must apologize to Malawians for undermining their aspirations through· parliament, the law and his entire technical team within his ministry,” said Malata.
He demanded, “The Minister must clearly explain why he decided to order the reopening the factories against· the court- backed ban of plastics”.
According to the Nation Newspaper, the memo was meant to appraise the minister on an exercise the Environmental Affairs Department undertook to inspect several plastic manufacturing companies in Blantyre and Lilongwe based on information that some were contravening the law by continuing to produce the banned thin plastics.
When asked on the link between saving the environment and elections, the minister said in a telephone interview that elections are a sensitive matter and that his decision considered the current political climate.
He also claimed that public utility service providers have also suspended disconnections of supply for non-payment of bills until after the election.
Said the minister: “In as much as we want to enforce the law, which is a must, we must also be mindful of the political environment.”
On June 4 2020, the Department of Environmental Affairs closed four companies—OG Plastics, City Plastics Industries, Anchor Industries and Qingdao Plastics based in Lilongwe and Blantyre—for continuing to produce thin plastics of less than 60 microns contrary to the Supreme Court order and the Environmental Management Act.
If found guilty, the companies risk paying fines in millions of kwacha. The law also imposes a custodial sentence of up to three months for offenders.
In a notice dated June 4 2020, director of Environmental Affairs Tawonga Mbale-Luka asked the companies to comply with the department’s order and fined them K5 million each to be settled by June 20 2020.
Lawyer Chikosa Banda faulted the minister’s justification, saying it was irrelevant to the situation in question.
The minister also claimed that he ordered the reopening of the companies in compliance with a court order in favour of Plastic Manufacturers issued on March 2020 which restrained the Environmental Affairs Department from stopping the manufacturing of certain types of plastics pending judicial review.
But officials from the ministry familiar with this issue disputed the minister’s assertion, saying the banned plastics outlined in the court order were already exempted in the regulations of 2015.
There has been a long court battle over the ban of thin plastics of less than 60 microns. In 2015, government banned the use of thin plastics under Environmental Management Regulations (2015), but plastic manufacturers obtained an injunction against the move on grounds that they were not consulted and that the decision would affect their economic rights.
After a four-year court battle, in July last year a seven-judge panel of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal chaired by Chief Justice Andrew Nyirenda upheld government’s ban on production, distribution and importation of thin plastics of less than 60 microns
A report produced by Lilongwe Wildlife Trust shows that the 15 plastic manufacturing companies currently operating in Malawi produce an estimated 75 000 tonnes of plastic per year with 80 percent of production being the banned single-use plastics.
While the industry claims that 5 000 jobs could be lost if plastic bags of less than 60 microns thick are banned, the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust report warns that more “costs of plastic pollution for municipalities, fisheries, agriculture, tourism and human health are likely to be higher than the costs of a ban, especially when the likely adaptive response and regional trends are taken into account”.
The report further warns the country’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Malawi, could run out of fish stocks by 2050 unless the use of thin plastics is curtailed.
Vuwa Kaunda is yet to comment on the MEA’s demand as the nation goes for polls on Tuesday, June 23.
Below is MEA’s full statement against Minister Vuwa Kaunda’s order:
PRESS STATEMENT ON MINISTER OF ENVIRONMENT’S IRREGULAR ORDER TO REOPEN PLASTIC COMPANIES PRODUCING BANNED THIN PLASTICS.
Let me on behalf of the Movement for Environmental Action – MEA welcome you members of the press to this important press briefing to appraise you on matters surrounding the plastic ban in Malawi.
That you were able show up within a short notice speaks highly of your commitment on matters of the environment.
Let me also recognise the presence of fellow defenders of the environment present here.
Truly we are in this noble cause together and together we will go a long way. Before we go deep into the business of the day, it is fair that we give you a bit of background about ourselves as a Movement and key background information on the journey we have walked through on the ban of thin plastics in Malawi.
1. About MEA The Movement for Environmental Actions was established around January this year mainly to join hands with those that are tirelessly working hard promoting sustainable utilization of our natural resources as well as protecting the environment from further damage.
The group comprise of individuals of different backgrounds living in Malawi and abroad, sharing the common interest of defending the environment.
We are determined to achieve our work through advocacy at all levels, public litigation and implementation of people centred transformative programs.
We seek to protect the socially disadvantaged parties and a country we call Malawi from further destruction through the advancement of Environmental Justice.
The movement has conducted various activities including clean up campaigns, supporting relevant institutions in manual work like weeding and tree planting, and joining commemorations.
The team has passion members that are able
To promote the preservation and continued improvement of the environment for the benefit of· the present and next generations of Malawians.
To identify and seek redress for the practices that lead to environmental degradation and· depletion of natural resources.
To promote volunteerism and inspire one another to harness, strengthen and complement each· other’s capacities whilst living the change we wish to see and working together in solidarity towards improved environmental standards in our society.
To ensure public participation in decision-making over developments likely to affect the natural· environments for local communities, women, children and other vulnerable groups.
To engage in vibrant campaigns, raise awareness, mobilize people and build alliances with· diverse movements, linking grassroots, national and global struggles in the fight for environmental rights.
2. The plastic problem – Global Situation There is overwhelming evidence showing increased production and mismanagement of plastics across the globe.
As of 2010, 270 million tonnes were produced while the global plastic waste stood at 275 million tonnes.
Mismanaged plastics with a high possibility of entering the environment amounted to 31.9 million tonnes and of this 8 million tonnes – 3% of global annual plastics waste – entered the ocean.
Recently the UN Chief Mr. Guterres said and I quote “ If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish” end of quote. Globally the impacts of plastics on the environment are estimated to result in natural capital losses of nearly $ 40 billion per year.
17 new policies on single-use plastics were implemented over 2017 and Africa has 25 countries probably the largest number of countries that have instituted a total ban on single use plastics.
Globally 62 countries have taken action against the ban of single use plastics.
3. The plastic Problem – Local situation Malawi’s appetite for use of thin plastics has been on the rise since early 2000 and currently, Malawians generate about 0.20 Kg of plastic waste per person per day.
Most plastics are used for packaging and as carrier bags by consumers of various goods.
The 15 registered plastic manufacturing companies in Malawi produce about 75,000 tonnes of plastics every year and 80% of this are single use plastics.
This is according to a publication by the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust released last year (The case for banning single use plastics in Malawi).
As is the case with most countries, wealthier households generate more waste as compared to low -income households.
Evidence quoted in the aforesaid publication suggests that 28, 000 tonnes of the plastic waste leaks into our environment every year.
It is therefore clear that failure to purge plastics will result in serious implications on the environment and peoples livelihoods.
Plastics take hundreds and thousands of years before they decompose depending on their nature.
You may wish to know that the first plastics produced in the 1850s could still be available today in the environment.
Malawi like other countries in the region is increasingly getting swamped with plastics.
The political will to end the plastic problem in Malawi and other solid waste challenges is there albeit rather inadequate.
Key legal instruments being used to control the production, importation, distribution use and sale of single use plastics are (1) Plastics Regulations – 2015 and the Environmental Management Act 2015.
Perpetrators can be fined in millions and owners can be subjected to 3 months custodial sentence with no option for fines. (2) The Environmental Management Act (EMA 2017) which has provisions for other penalties.
Malawi also has other pieces of regulations and policies that safeguard the well being of the environment.
At global level, as nation we are party to various treaties and protocols that seek to protect the environment.
This implies we committed to the whole world that we will act in the best interest of our environment. Recently Malawi also committed to a UN Environment Assembly resolution aimed at ending the single single use plastic scourge and we commend the government for taking the right steps.
However, over time we have seen gaps and lapses both when it comes to policy implementation and enforcement.
We also continue to experience high levels of impunity and double standards in the manner our policy holders have been handling the issue of plastic waste in this country.
As MEA we think such conduct is doing this country a big disservice and throwing the nation in a very precarious situation.
We want our leaders to act with urgency knowing the plastic problem threatens our existence and potentially suffocates our sustainable development aspirations as enshrined in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy III and most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Plastic menace threatens wildlife, tourism, human health, aquatic life, drainage blockages leading to urban flooding which damages critical infrastructure. Plastics also negatively affects our soils, water quality and livestock among others.
4. The Ban of single use plastics in Malawi Efforts to ban single use plastics in Malawi started as early as 2004.
The Department of Environmental Affairs EAD) has been engaging stakeholders that include but are not limited to NGOs, city councils, retail shop owners, police, manufactures and the media. EAD and Manufactures worked on an agreed road map before the ban was effected.
Companies wanted more time to adjust their machines but and requested more time to deplete accumulated stocks.
All that was granted. In 2015 EAD made the first official announcement on the ban of thin plastics of less than 60 micrometers.
Unfortunately, the ban was challenged by the Association of Plastic Manufacturers in 2016.
The high court granted manufacturers a stay order pending judicial review of the matter.
At that time the manufactures argued they were not heard on the matter and that the EAD did not consider factors that may have led to certain hardships if their companies remained closed.
EAD battled the issue at the courts and successfully discharged the stay order.
Interestingly a month later, the manufactures went to the court again this time at the Supreme Court of Appeal contesting the high court decision on the matter.
All these were tactics to buy time and frustrate the ban and more time was lost.
The situation remained hopeless until August last year when the Supreme Court did not sustain arguments by the manufactures and the case closed in favour of the government to proceed with the ban.
It is good to note that in between the court battles, government as was still able to conduct enforcement exercises and some companies were fined accordingly.
5. Recent Developments In keeping with the ban, EAD intensified enforcement of the law and this resulted in the closure of four companies believed to have been producing thin plastics against the law.
Some trucks carrying the prohibited plastics were also impounded and all cases were reported to police for the commencement of trial processes before the courts.
The list of closed companies are as follows: 1. Qingdao Plastics of 6 miles Lilongwe closed 11th March 2020. 2. City Plastics Industries of Lilongwe closed on 3rd June 2020 3. OG plastic industries of Blantyre closed on 4th June 2020 4. Anchor Plastics Industries of Blantyre was fined on 4th June 2020
On 30th March, this year, the plastic manufactures went to court again and obtained injunction, this time a wrong one since it restrains the government from enforcing a ban on thin plastics which are on the exemption schedule and are not part of those being targeted for ban considering that Malawi is implementing a partial and not total ban of plastics.
We understand this the more reason the government went on to close the companies’ despite being served with the injunction because it was within their conviction, the injunction did not in any way stop them from pouncing on those that are still producing plastics earmarked for the ban.
You may wish to note that the Qingdao plastics case was due for hearing on 17th June 2020 but did not take place due to reasons which are not in our boundaries to state.
We also have information indicating that processes were also underway to expedite other cases involving O G plastics, Anchor Industries Limited in Blantyre and City Plastics in Lilongwe.
Since this matter is of public interest the information is out there at the police and you can follow up the issues anytime and we encourage you to do that.
While many of us were happy with the progress made by EAD in pouncing the defiant companies after such a 15-year battle and engagement process, were all woke up to some shocking news when we read a news article in the nation newspaper published on Friday 19th June 2020 that the Minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife Honorable Vuwa Kaunda has ordered the reopening of companies the plastic companies until elections are over.
We find the Minister’s actions to be highly suspicious, irregular and retrogressive.
The two issues raised by the Minister are incomprehensible. As a principal custodian of the environment, Mr Vuwa Kaunda was supposed to side with the law, Malawians, the courts and entire technical team in his Ministry to ensure justice prevails.
Regrettably, the Minister has chosen to take a dangerous route against the Supreme Court Judgment, the Plastics Regulations (2015) and the Environmental Management Act of 2015.
It is unheard of for a well reasoning Minister to act in a manner that opposes everything he was appointed for.
Mr Vuwa Kaunda embarrassingly failed in his duties, demonstrated lack of integrity, cannot be trusted and does not deserve be in the public service. We can comfortably conclude he is the threat in chief the environment. For your information let me read for you one of the clauses in the closure order issued by his Ministry –
“NOW THEREFORE, TAKE NOTE that CITY PLASTICS INDUSTRIES is hereby CLOSED WITH IMMEDIATE EFFECT under the provisions of the Environment Management Act, until such a time when the provisions of the Act and the Environment Management (Plastics) Regulations of 2015, have been complied with and the order is lifted, unless before that time court proceedings have been instituted in respect of the contravention, in which event the premises shall remain closed until the proceedings are fully concluded.”
This is why we are all left confused and suspicious. 6.
Our Position on the Matter
We fully support the action taken by EAD to close the companies for defying the ban of thin· plastics of less than 60 micrometers.
The Minister acted ultra vires and we immediately ask him to reverse the order paving room for· due court processes.
Mr Vuwa Kaunda is not in any way by law mandated or given the discretion to enter into any discussions or negotiations with the aggrieved parties except the Director of Environmental Affairs.
Even the Director has limits as she/he is not allowed to interfere on a matter that is under consideration before the courts.
That if Mr Vuwa Kaunda does not reconsider his stand, and continues to directly engage with· the companies, he together with the concerned companies be subjected to serious investigations by relevant bodies.
The Minister must apologize to Malawians for undermining their aspirations through· parliament, the law and his entire technical team within his ministry.
The Minister must clearly explain why he decided to order the reopening the factories against· the court- backed ban of plastics.
The government has for the last 15 years battled the case in court and we ask him to consider refunding all taxpayers resources spent on this case which could have been used to construct school blocks elsewhere or help buy some equipment in our hospitals , especially during these Covid 19 times.
The Minister shall be held liable personally for any undesirable outcomes that may arise due to· his unlawful and inconsiderate stand on such a critical matter of national importance.
The minister must reverse the order immediately and restore the matter to order so that court· processes should continue.
To the companies.
We ask them to pursue only legal means as they have tried though in futility.·
We would like to warn the international companies that we are watching their moves and at the right time, we will expose them. We have been watching for so long, but now we are ready to face them head-on, anywhere because they know they are fighting a losing the battle.
If the companies have valid reasons to keep on producing the banned plastics, they should move the courts and the courts will guide them accordingly.
Any further attempts to circumvent justice shall not be condoned. We have Malawi and her people to protect, they have profits to make.
We need to safeguard our country against such dangerous investors. Where they come from, they cannot be allowed to do this.
The so called investors must stop taking Malawians for granted. If they can’t follow the laws· governing their operations in Malawi, they must take leave of the country and find another country where such is tolerated.
Should the companies continue to mount unnecessary pressure on civil servants and the· Minister through illegal means, we will organize demonstrations to their factories and we are ready to face them in the courts.
We demand them to side with the law and not politicians.· EAD and other players must work towards promoting alternatives to thin plastics in Malawi.·
This is a business opportunity for all to embrace. The government should also speed up the operationalization of the Malawi Environment· Protection Agency
-MEPA established under the 2017 EMA which will be a more autonomous institution that will operate with minimum or no unnecessary interference when it comes to enforcement of environmental laws in Malawi.
We also ask the city councils take a leading role in implementing the ban.
Their continued· silence on the matter is bothering. We also appeal to all Malawians to adjust their lifestyles and begin to take the responsibility of· taking care of their environment.
7. Moving forward
The government must quickly work on a total ban, the partial ban of single use plastics is· confusing and may not be effective.
Consider increasing penalties and lengthen the custodial sentences for offenders.·
Improve coordination among all enforcement agencies.· Increase awareness and be strict with enforcement activities.
Consider subsidies or other tax holidays for companies interested to scale recycling and· production of alternatives in this country.
Let us all realise the value we gain from nature and begin act responsibly.
Colleagues in the media, we recognize your important role in this battle we hope to build on this interaction to keep the conversation going until change is delivered.
In particular, allow me to commend the Nation Newspaper for bringing into the public domain such a very critical issue.
That is called patriotic journalism and we need more of such investigative skills in the media.
Together we can walk the greener steps every day.
Thanks for your attention.